On July 1st, 1999, twenty people were killed in a dreadful accident of the téléphérique that gave access to the Plateau de Bure observatory. As of this writing, the cause of the accident is still unclear. Among the victims were five IRAM employees, key men in the operation of the téléphérique, the maintenance of the observatory, the clearing of the interferometer tracks in winter, and in the assembly of new antennas. The IRAM employees who lost their lives were:
Bernard Aubeuf, born in 1954 at Varces (Isère), and had worked on the téléphérique since September 1984. In June 1991, he was appointed chief of the team responsible for the téléphérique operations and maintenance. In December 1991, he was injured in an accident while working on the roof of the téléphérique, but with great perserverance and great personal courage, he recovered and was able to resume his work. Bernard Aubeuf was a real professional, and had the full confidence of the IRAM staff. He was very enthusiastic and we will very much miss his lively, friendly conversation and his very serious, high-quality work.
Patrick Vibert was born in 1959 at Andrézel (Seine-et-Marne). He was the chief of the team of manual workers on the Plateau, and worked on the téléphérique, general maintenance, snow clearing of the interferometer tracks, and helped in the construction of the antennas. Patrick Vibert was endowed with exceptionally good humour and generosity, and was very proud of his two adopted children. The family of Patrick Vibert was afflicted with a double tragedy: His young nephew, Mickaël Eymeoud, working for the construction company Queyras on the extension of the interferometer tracks, was also killed in the accident.
Henri Gontard was born in 1945 at Saint-Etienne-en-Dévoluy (Hautes-Alpes), and was the father of two children. He was on the maintenance crew of the Plateau de Bure station, and worked on the téléphérique, general maintenance, snow clearing of the interferometer tracks, and helped in the assembly of new antennas. ``Rick'' Gontard was a real montagnard, with an excellent knowledge of the mountains and the natural environment. He had been a monitor at the nearby ski station, and was an authoritative source on the snow conditions and the avalanche danger in the valleys descending from the Plateau de Bure. He was very polite and friendly, very strong, and always helpful.
Francis Gillet was born in 1949 at Saint-Etienne-en-Dévoluy (Hautes-Alpes), and was the father of three children. He was a temporary employee who served on the maintenance crew of the Plateau de Bure station, and in the past, had helped in the assembly of the antennas. In the winter, he worked as a monitor at the nearby ski station. Francis Gillet was interested in community affairs, and was active as an elected representative in the local town Council.
Roland Prayer was born in 1969 at Gap (Hautes-Alpes), and leaves a wife and child. He was a temporary employee who worked as a mechanic at the Plateau de Bure station, helping with antenna maintenance and the assembly of new antennas. In the winter, he worked as a monitor at the ski station below the Plateau. He was very friendly, and happy to be working in the Plateau de Bure environment.
In addition to the families of the IRAM employees, the tragedy also struck fifteen other families, those of the workers of three different companies who had activities on the Plateau:
the Entreprise Queyras of Saint-Crépin (Hautes-Alpes), a construction company engaged in the civil work for the extension of the north arm of the interferometer. This company lost nine workers, most of them young men:
Romain Delfosse (Gap),
Mickaël Eymeoud (Gap)
Pascal Mahe (Gap)
Norbert Merella (Guillestre)
Bruno Nougier (Le Noyer)
Jean Sabar (Gap)
Fabien Tonda (Saint-Crépin)
Senol Topal (apprentice at Egleton)
Frédéric Villar (Le Noyer)
the Entreprise Graniou of Vitrolles (Bouches-du-Rhône), a telecommunications company, that lost four of its employees:
Sylvain Aubry (Vitrolles)
Michel Cannone (Vitrolles)
François Mace (Vitrolles)
Stéphane Paris (Vitrolles)
the Entreprise Nera of Gap (Hautes-Alpes), a company specialised in cleaning of industrial sites, that lost two of its employees:
Lucien Koubi (Gap)
Michel Rougny (Gap)